PARIS — Louis Vuitton’s watchmaking division is delving further into the automata genre with its latest launches, to be revealed on Thursday at an event in Courchevel.
First, the French luxury brand’s 42-mm rose gold Tambour Fiery Heart Automata is its first in-house self-winding automaton movement geared toward a female clientele, entirely developed in its La Fabrique du Temps Louis Vuitton workshop.
Marking another first is the new timepiece’s dial, done in-house by a master enameller. It features a crowned flaming heart bearing the word “sweet” on an unfurled scroll while briar roses and their thorny vines curl, serving as indices on the sub-dial, executed in candy-like reds and lush greens.
“The depth of the dial in this diameter is stunning in its detail,” said Jean Arnault, director of watches at Louis Vuitton, lauding the skilled hands at La Fabrique du Temps who brought “heritage techniques of engraving and enameling to bear in a modern and realistic way.”
There are no less than seven mechanisms involved in the 13-second animation, including the one that opens the heart to reveal the full message to be “Sweet but Fierce,” in a nod to the idea that “there is no rose without its thorn,” according to the brand.
It took three years for the teams under the direction of master watchmakers Enrico Barbasini and Michel Navas to develop the caliber LFT 325 movement for another novelty: the first time a flying tourbillon mechanism has been paired with a self-winding movement with automata on the dial. This latter part is driven by its own mainspring.
Another automaton that caught the eye at a preview at the brand’s headquarters in Paris: the Tambour Opera Automata, a jacquemart automaton design two years in the making and inspired by Bian Lian, a face-changing artform found in China’s Sichuan opera.
It sees performers change silk masks in a split second to depict different expressions from an array of up to 20, generally hiding the gesture behind the flick of a fan or another movement.
“We wanted the Tambour Opera Automata to reflect the striking aesthetics and expressive movements of Bian Lian,” stated Navas, who cocreated this watch’s movement with Barbasini, drawing a parallel between the legerdemain required for the mask changes and traditional watchmaking skills.
The dial bears the combined efforts of master engraver Dick Steenman and master enameller Anita Porchet, to portray a Bian Lian mask that shifts from joy to sadness set on a black monogrammed background. On the back, the mask is also reproduced in a black polish that can take 50 hours to achieve even for the most skilled hands.
The precious metal engraving alone took Steenman more than two weeks to complete, while Porchet worked white, red and black cloisonné enamel separated with white gold threads to depict the character’s expressive features.
Like its predecessor, the award-winning Tambour Carpe Diem that scooped the “Audacity Award at the 2021 Grand Prix de l’Horlogerie Genève,” the figure plays an active role in the way time is displayed.
Pressing the dragon’s head at two o’clock activates five different animations to come alive for a total of 16 seconds, driven by the LV 525 caliber with jumping hours and retrograde minutes. A pink-gold dragon’s head swings across the mask’s forehead to reveal the hours while the tail points to the minutes, as the mask’s eyes and mouth also move.
There are other nods to Chinese culture, including the replacement of the number four, considered unlucky, by a four-petal flower in the hour indicator; the power reserve is a calabash-shaped gourd, and there are enameled fans on the dial and crown.
Other new designs launching Thursday are a pair of Tambour Moon Flying Tourbillon Poinçon de Genève watches, with cases cut from single blocks of synthetic sapphire in fluorescent yellow or green.
All the better to see the intricacies of the flying tourbillon, with its Monogram Flower openwork carriage, and matte black circular bridges and plates. Like previous styles, both versions are customizable to one’s initials instead of the house’s L and V.
In addition to 420 hours required for the sapphire case, every watch component of a Poinçon de Genève timepiece has to be made and finished by hand in the Canton of Geneva by craftsmen in order to bear the city’s hallmark, so these are expected to be produced in very limited series.